Thursday, September 28, 2017

Counsel of Perfection

Honestly I can't say why I have always deferred to professionals for advice.  Perhaps it is a predilection cultivated contemporaneously with my own advancement as a legal professional.  That however isn't conclusive because at the age of 28 when I had only been practicing law for a year I eagerly retained the services of a chartered accountant to handle my income tax returns thenceforth. Never did I harbour the desire to do it myself; and I certainly did not flatter myself to imagine that I could do it myself.  By comparison my own father filed his returns until he was about 90 years of age. It is safe to say that he considered his competency sufficient or the task not insurmountable. I should note however that when I eventually succeeded to transfer carriage of his filings to a chartered accountant we subsequently discovered that my father's returns had been reassessed by Canada Revenue Agency on an annual basis, sometimes three times per year.

In spite of my universal confidence in the expertise of professionals - whether lawyers, accountants, doctors, financial advisors, mechanics, contractors or landscapers - I am quick to add that my faith is not blind.  I do whatever I can to investigate the advisor at the outset before engaging him or her; and then I observe them critically.  I also rely upon the experience and opinion of other of their clients whom I consider intellectually astute.  By contrast I am not persuaded by the mocking comments of reputed experts (some of whom are themselves professionals) who seek to diminish the value of professional counsel when I know their motivation is almost entirely niggardly.  As I have often remarked, the people who buy Steinway pianos are not necessarily rich, but they do know a good piano.

The suggestion that counsel of perfection is an unrealizable ideal is misleading. Certainly I do not expect professional advisors to be right all the time though unquestionably I hope that they are. I do believe that on balance they provide value-added service.  It is illustrative of my commitment that only recently we hired independent counsel to revise our last Will and Testament and Power of Attorney for Property Management and Personal Care.  I confess that inherent in this capitulation to a qualified practitioner is the knowledge that there is the further assurance of professional liability insurance.  This I view as no more cautious than insuring one's home (though I have known people who did not and who tragically suffered a catastrophic loss as a result of an unanticipated event).  This perhaps captures the true flavour of counsel of perfection; namely, that it is the best advice going, not necessarily advice that you'll need. In that respect the retention of a professional is oddly a gamble of sorts - though in my view it is a calculated risk (and frequently one which is tax deductible). The thesis is also part of the general theory that you get what you pay for, which is to say that if the professional advice comes cheap, beware!

There are people who apparently pride themselves on being able to do anything. I can't imagine this confidence derives solely from narcissism. Rather it is more likely they consider their accomplishment to be within the realm of possibility and they relish the thrill of the challenge.  As a critical lawyer, this constitutes in my mind misguided ambition, similar in my accustomed vernacular to imagining that an Ontario Land Surveyor will tell you nothing you don't already know. The common plea from the dilettante is, "How hard can it be?"  If one is content to dabble then I suppose the argument is no contest.  On the other hand, if the objective is counsel of perfection then the options are unambiguous.  Nor does it distract from the proper focus to ask, "What can possibly go wrong?"  In my experience there are vast opportunities for things to go wrong, often where least expected.  The way to close the door on uncertainty is to be as certain as possible.

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